Kayvon’s stage: Thibodeaux returns to Pac-12 title game with opportunity to cement legacy as one of the conference’s best
He's a two-time conference champion and a future first-round pick. Now, the player who kicked off the wave of big-time talent coming to UO can wrap up with a Pac-12 three-peat
(Eric Evans/GoDucks.com photo)
Two years ago, the Pac-12 championship game served as Kayvon Thibodeaux’s unveiling.
Sure, the Oregon freshman defensive end was relatively known at the time. He was the No. 2 player in the 2019 class, the one who picked an Oregon hat instead of an Alabama one live on ESPN to become the top-rated recruit in program history. That moment in itself was validating for Mario Cristobal’s early vision for revamping Oregon with top-level talent. But now the No. 13 Ducks were back on a national stage in the title game for the first time since 2014, and all week Oregon players heard how No. 5 Utah was going to run all over them.
Really, the only question was whether the Utes could win by enough to get a longer look from the playoff selection committee.
Utah had a fine quarterback in Tyler Huntley, who had 46 touchdowns throughout his career as a starter, but the Utes’ offense depended on conference-leading rusher Zach Moss going to work. Utah had nearly 400 more rushing yards than any other team in the conference that year and came into Levi’s Stadium with 11 rushing touchdowns in its last three games.
“All week we talked about how we had to be the more physical team to win,” said Jordon Scott, Oregon’s former defensive tackle, “because their game plan was going to be the same game plan they have this Saturday: Run the ball.”
It was an effective strategy, but one with a flaw: Utah was a team that wasn’t built to play catch up, which made for a simple game plan for Oregon if the Ducks could execute.
Stuff the run, get a lead and let Thibodeaux take over.
After one quarter, Oregon led 10-0. At the half, it was 20-0. If the Utes had any hope of salvaging a playoff bid, they’d have to throw the ball in the second half.
That meant they’d have to go through Thibodeaux.